Bridging the Gap between Business and Poverty

By: Ashley Riggs, 36 Degrees North Intern

There are 7 billion people on this planet. That’s a lot of people. And the fact is: the vast majority live in poverty.

Ted London, known for his work bridging the gap between businesses and developing countries, is looking to change that. “Poverty is the greatest challenge facing humanity,” London explains. And he says we need to work smarter to alleviate it. “Our focus should be not “should we do it?” but “how can we do it better?”

Here’s the gist of how London thinks we could improve efforts to help developing countries emerge from poverty:

Ted London speaks at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa on January 31, 2018.

Ted London speaks at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa on January 31, 2018.

Reconsider Conventional Wisdom

Overhaul traditional views of underprivileged people groups. London says, when most people think about poverty, they tend to victimize individuals. But he says change comes when, instead, we think of them as colleagues, partners and advisors with expertise to share. The key is to work with them, not pass out handouts from afar.

The Business-Philanthropy Model

The Business-Philanthropy model is one that is mutually beneficial for both for-profit businesses and the people of developing countries. Businesses, according to London, should establish themselves in developing markets, selling needed items (like cell phones and health care supplies) and creating jobs for locals. If done correctly, it’s a pretty sweet deal for both parties.

So how’s that going?  “There is a growing momentum behind this idea,” London explains. Especially with millennial entrepreneurs. Young people no longer see business as just a vehicle to make money. They see it as a way to also make a difference in developing countries.

What still needs work? “There are too many pilots… there’s lots of activity, but we aren’t sure what we’ve learned,” says London. “We need concrete reports of what is going on with businesses in helping alleviate poverty. How are they actually effecting change?” In other words, the whole thing has to be more data-driven.

Roadmap for Business Leaders

#1 - Find the right perspective: Don’t assume that you know how to fix things without first gathering lots of information. Go in with the mindset that the people in the developing market are smarter than you. After all, it’s their country.

#2 - Ask the right questions: What is their definition of success? What do they need to be self-sufficient? How can business work in their cultural context?

#3 - Professionalize the process: Businesses need to publicize the tools they use, the ways they’ve grown and the lessons they learn on the field. When development is documented, companies won’t make the same mistake twice.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, the question is how can we make the world a better place? For Ted London, the answer is clear. To alleviate poverty, entrepreneurs have to take the lead. “Look inward and think about the future,” London says. “What will your legacy be?”

Ted London speaks in Tulsa on January 31.

Ted London speaks in Tulsa on January 31.

An example of the questions London says entrepreneurs should be asking.

An example of the questions London says entrepreneurs should be asking.

ORU students and professors listen as London presents.

ORU students and professors listen as London presents.